Sunflowers, Tomatoes & Rainbows
Pre-Post Note/ THANK you for all the comments in my last post!! Clearly I hit a topic that resonated with many of you, and I’m glad I could provide an outlet for that. I’m so humbled by everyone that added their part, and I’ll be answering each of your comments in detail (sorry I’m a bit behind). Thank you again!
I had a vision on Monday. Well, perhaps more like an image in my mind.
I was walking past sunflowers, huge fields of which are abloom in a blanket of brilliant yellow all over SW France this time of year, when I saw a rainbow. It was such a precise image, and so intense both visually and mentally that it made me stop in my tracks to reflect.
We’re well into July now, mid-way through this crazy year, and after months of dark and grey (in so many ways) we seem to be having a short, but definite little window of relief. The rainbow was a reflection of that, a brief sigh after a long, tense wait. I wonder, will it last?
I know things are very different in different countries of the world at the moment, with the virus and all (yeah, that thing again). But here in the rural SW France it feels like we’re in a blissful lull, where the stillness and heat of summer has slowed everything down, and time has stopped for a brief moment of reflection.
There have been no new reported cases in our area for weeks (yeah!!!), and around town it’s just us locals mingling, going to the market, and carrying on with our lives. The first summer get-togethers have started too, little gatherings at the local winery, music nights at the local resto and folks doing hikes and bikes. Things feel almost normal….for now.
It’s the rainbow on the horizon, and for the brief moment that it’s here I want soak it all in, while I can.
So this weeks post is about that. The little things that are giving me joy right now and bringing the sunlight into our lives; like sunflowers, tomatoes, get-togethers (we had our first!) and yes…. even rainbows. Sometimes dreams do come true, if only for a moment.
I think sunflowers are some of the happiest flowers.
They’re iconic here in the SW of France, with great fields of them that cover the hills every summer in a brief, but glorious bloom. It’s something I look forward to every July. In the heat of the hottest months, where greens have darkened, and a fuzzy haze often hangs in the air, the bright yellow blankets unfold over a period of several weeks, like the strokes of an impressionist painter bringing a grey canvas to life, and it’s a glorious sight.
Called “tournesol” (essentially, “turn-sun”) in French, the plants do track the sun for a while (heliotropism) when they’re young, giving a fascinating movement to the fields as the flowers dance slowly through the day. This is thanks to an internal circadian rhythm, that causes different sides of the stem to elongate at different times of day (see this in a video -> it’s cool, right?). But then they stop as they mature, parking themselves due East to be warmed exclusively by the morning sun.
This latter phase, when the flowers are still is when they are in their FULL glory.
At maturity they are at their largest and brightest, each head bursting with hundreds of tiny flowers (another fun fact), the stalks standing proud and strong in stunning yellow formation, like rays of the sun laid in the earth. It’s a brilliant, joyful yellow that warms your soul and lifts your spirit. I get the urge to don a long, flowing wrap dress and a large, floppy hat just so I can walk through the fields and pretend I’m in a romantic movie. I mean, doesn’t everyone?
But alas, like all beautiful things, their moment in the limelight is short-lived.
A few weeks after this glorious show the heads start to droop and the petals, once bright, yellow and strong, start to wither and brown. Most people don’t know that sunflowers are not harvested until most of their petals have dropped and they look almost dead. Frankly it’s not a good look and even worse, their culling is often accompanied by the dreaded harvest chiggers; nasty, almost invisible little beasts that crawl into your clothes and munch happily in little, red lines along your inner thighs and stomach. At the height of the harvest, it’s a daily battle to avoid the little invaders.
But sunflowers are oh-so-lovely while they are in bloom. I guess it’s the price we pay for their prettiness.
The other thing that makes me happy this time of year are tomatoes.
If there were a fruit equivalent of the sunflower, it would be the tomato. I’m not talking the wet, tasteless specimens you buy at the grocery store, that are about as far from the natural product as human over-processing can take them. No, I’m talking the intense, sun-ripened sweetness of a home-grown beauty. It’s red as the flames of a fire, warm as the rays of the sun, and it melts in your mouth with all the flavors of summer in a single bite.
We harvested the first one from our potager just a few days ago. We savored it as a family, carefully cut in three, drizzled with olive oil from a local farm, a pinch of fleur de sel from the famous salt marshes of Guérande, and a basil leaf cut in slivers, also from the garden. Just a few, select accents to highlight the natural product, and it was oh-so-crazy-deliciously-good. Honestly, there’s nothing like a home-grown tomato.
And there’s much more to come.
The teeny little plants that I bought for a mere €0.99 from the local nursery back in April are now almost 5 feet high with stems as thick as my thumb, and flowers abloom with the promise of many sweet, tasty harvests to come.
We planted them with a base of eggshells (a classic hack that releases calcium for root and leaf growth), banana peels (another classic hack, for potassium which aids continuous growth, photosynthesis and disease prevention), and we’ve been feeding them regularly (tomatoes are hungry plants) with a special bio tomato feed. Oh, and our final hack? We’re only watering them sparingly, barely once a week. It intensifies the flavor something crazy, a trick that I learned from a legendary tomato farmer down the way.
Thanks to all this, our little plants are doing beautifully. We’ve got 4 different types growing, and they’re all looking healthy and are producing well. I predict much more sun-ripened lip-smacking goodness ahead.
Which brings me back to that rainbow.
They say all things happen in threes, so it’s really no surprise that this did too. As I mentioned in the beginning of the post I first saw the rainbow in my mind as I was walking past some sunflower fields on Monday. It was a strong image that struck me out of nowhere, and lingered in my mind. I remember thinking at the time “man, that would make the perfect picture”.
And then incredibly, it happened.
The very next day as I was walking through the drizzle on my way to help out a neighbor, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds, bathing the sunflowers in light and conjuring the prismatic magic of a rainbow in the dark sky directly opposite it. WOW! The picture was there and it was stunning, exactly as I had imagined in my minds eye, but alas my camera was not. I stood in awe as the colors brightened to a crescendo and then dimmed and disappeared mere moments after. “noooooo, I missed it!!!”
And yet perhaps even more incredibly, all was not lost.
Somehow the universe was listening, or perhaps I was the one alert, but either way a few days later there was another storm. It was one of those blissful summer rains that rush through and cool the earth, like a refreshing shower after a sweltering hot day. As the rain slowed to a drizzle, the sun broke through and in that moment I knew. I ran out, camera in hand and there it was. A gorgeous, full double-rainbow painted in the sky, exactly like the two I had seen before.
What an absolute gift!
I rushed out the back door, and into the field of sunflowers behind our house and started clicking away, savoring the sweet smell of the earth fresh with rain, admiring the yellow petals against the dark sky, and the rainbow that seemed to almost glisten and cry.
It was perfect, and in that moment the world stopped in a sweet relief, much like our life, a reminder that good things do exist even in these times, and that nature’s beauty is unwavering. It’s a good lesson to remember.
We’ve Got The Message
Much like sunflowers, tomatoes and rainbows, I know this lull of ours (the virus lull I mean) likely won’t last.
So we’re starting slowly, but cautiously to venture out while we can. I wrote in detail about this in my post last week, so I won’t go through the deep stuff again, but I did want to share that we made the BIG step of going out to dinner at a friend’s house this week, our first social gathering with real people in 4 months (!!). It was an intimate affair with just two other couples, all people we knew who had been under lock-down like us. To be honest it felt odd and a bit uncomfortable to begin with, but it was also wonderfully liberating. I can’t deny I’ve missed spending time with people in real life.
This next week we’ll do the same with some French neighbors of ours just down the road. It going to be another small gathering with folks that we know, held outside at their place. Nothing crazy, no big parties, just a few mini-steps towards normality, while we can.
Because perhaps a few months from now, everything will be different once again.
With folks traveling for summer vacay, people mingling and tourists coming over to France in droves, we may well be looking at a second virus wave. Personally I think it’s a very high probability, although (hopefully) the wave can be managed this time around. Either way, it only amplifies the message that now is the time for us to enjoy that rainbow we’ve been gifted, and that brief period in time where the sun shines bright, and happy colors are everywhere.
Here’s hoping you find your rainbow too….
So my dear blog readers, let me know…where are you finding your personal rainbow now? I know some of you are in hot-spot areas, and others are still quarantining. Are you finding joy? DO share below! In these tough times I think we can all benefit from that.
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Brenda Lopez says
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. The sunflowers, the tomatoes, the rainbows, all. And Polly of course. Though the chiggers sound awful, we’ve never come across any, thankfully. But now we do have scorpions, though only small ones get in the house. And spiders. Jungle living. But we have a lovely roof patio that we’ve been enjoying, getting a closer look at some of the birds on top of the trees.
Ruthie in Fontana says
Miss your Blog Brenda and Hector
I do too!!!! Nina
Ruthie in Fontana says
Loved this post Nina, I sent my friend who love writing your blog info so she can enjoy it too. If you see any daffodils they are my favorite.
Oh I LOVE daffodils too! We had loads of them in early Spring (there’s a few pics on the blog from back then), but they’re all long gone now.
Oh, you’re so right. Beautiful photos and very true comments. We ventured out for the first time last week too. A small open air concert at a nearby chateau. 30 people in a large meadow. Masks and distancing in our camping chairs. It felt so good to be ‘normal’ again.
How LOVELY!! I so miss all the summer activities here in SW France. There’s usually such an abundance of music concerts, village fests, night markets and more, but sadly most of them have been cancelled. It’s really nice to see a few of them return, albeit in smaller ways. Nice to hear you’re seeing the same in your area.
Nina…Your photos are gorgeous!
Linda Sand says
I’m finding joy in sharing this stay-at-home time with my husband. Even after 53 years of marriage love continues to grow.
Now THAT is a beautiful statement and one that warms my very-romantic heart. Love it!
Absolutely stunning photos, especially the fields of sunflowers, my very favorite flower, I think! Perhaps this is why, when returning from Mexico lately and in need of a car, we bought a Kia Soul in Solar Yellow, and in planning to build a new house in the woods, we are going to have a brilliant yellow door! Unfortunately, cases are still on the rise here in North Carolina, so no gatherings for us, but we still have much to be thankful for: bike rides, walks, black-eyed susans, air-conditioning against the heat and humidity, and wild turkeys we saw on our walk tonight.
Your comment took me back to the RV trip we did thro’ NC a few years ago. Such great memories! Glad to hear you have so many lovely outdoor activities in your area.
Pauline Conn says
Thank you for the beauty and hope. We normally are RVing in the summer (sound familiar?) but decided, after much deliberation. to hunker down in our wee park model for the summer. Unfortunately, we are in Arizona. And right now it is 113F in the shade. Most of our friends headed north months ago. I’m am extrovert; I also have 2 autoimmune diseases and am on immunosuppressants. We have been quarantining; moving into our 5th month now. I’ve been battling depression. The joy yesterday was a visit from a family of Gambel’s Quail- mom and dad and 9 brand new babies. I have decided each morning I need to see how I can create the best day possible. That decision is giving me hope. And I, too, am very grateful for air-conditioning!
113F….UGH!! And I was reading this week that you’re getting an even bigger heat-wave. It’s a “dry heat” though right? (everyone always says that LOL).
I’m truly sorry to hear about your depression. As someone who battles this myself, I know exactly where you’re coming from. These past months of quarantine have been tough, especially on those of us who deal with the depression demon (as I always call him). Your idea of planning the day is an excellent one. It’s exactly what I started to do when I was feeling my most down a few months ago. I would plan each day the night before, trying to include at least one new thing (no matter how small) to look forward to. I wrote about this, so if you’re looking for more support check out my post on it HERE. Hang in there & keep working on it. It will help, and we will all get through this together.
B. J. Moser says
Thanks for the photo of a REAL tomato. I haven’t tasted one on a long time.
Reminded of the times back on Iowa when my brother and I would go out to the tomato patch in the back yard with salt shakers in hand. Somehow it always ended in a rotten tomato war. Good times!
That’s a fine memory….and I can just imagine those tomatoes flying too. Thanks for sharing.
ain't for city gals says
Our joy is taking care of our 5 year old grand nephew Henry 3 days a week while his parents work! We took care of his mother (our niece) 3 days a week 37 years ago tomorrow…her birthday! So it is a full circle for us…we only hope we can make it to take care of Henry’s children a bit. Might be pushing it a bit but you never know! Henry is our only “weak link” in this Covid crisis but we decided it was worth it and it has been!
So glad to hear you’ve found a joyful outlet. It’s a beautiful thing (and a gift) to be able to be around family during this time.
When people ask my favorite color and I answer yellow they almost respond with a pitiful “oh” as if it’s some kind of mistake.
Great read and splendid photos.
It’s funny…I think perhaps many folks associate yellow with that horrible mustard color that was so popular back in the 70’s (remember that?), and which came back into “mode” again a few years ago? But yellow is SO MUCH MORE than that. I fully agree with you…it’s such a wonderful, joyful, heart-warming color that can also be cooling, or warming (depending on the hue), and romantic too (at sunset, for example). It’s a great color to love 🙂
Angie Quantrell says
Gorgeous! We are living in an RV in our son’s pasture. We built a small cement stone patio about 10 feet from our front door. On one side I plant painted corn, the other has turned into a sunflower forest. On a third side is a tree that blooms bright yellow. By this time of the year, we have a private, colorful outdoor living room. To cheer myself up, I spray painted 2 old metal chairs and an old metal cafe table bright purple. This sits on the patio, along with low to the ground wooden benches along two edges. It really is a blessing to have this tiny bit of privacy, color, wildlife. We enjoy happy hour each evening, with or without drinks. Our cat waits for us. If she knows it’s about that time, she will stretch along the cement, watching and waiting. If it’s a weekend, she tries to get us out there in the morning for an early happy hour. LOL. AND (darn thing) she lurks in the sunflower forest to try and snatch goldfinches who come to feed. She got one this year! (and a stern talking to). Love the photographs!
Love all the bright colors you’ve surrounded yourself with. Awww, and your cat!!!! She sounds like such a great personality. Thanks for sharing that.
Brenda M> says
Absolutely beautiful pictures Nina! Thank you so much for sharing them.
Betty Marvin says
Finally, I meet another who appreciates and waxes poetic over fresh-out-of-the-garden tomatoes as I do! I love them! We moved from MI to AZ over 30 years ago, and though we tried valiantly many times to regrow that flavor over those years, AZ grown tomatoes never measure up to that first tangy bite you get from a beautiful, brilliant red MI tomato. You’re right, it’s heavenly!
I know exactly what you mean. I’m so glad that we’ve been able to “re-discover” real tomatoes in France. I was able to buy some good ones at various farmers markets while we were traveling around the US, but there’s nothing quite like home-grown, and they seem exceptionally good here in France. The soil, the sun, the atmosphere…everything is in that one, juicy bite.
Dolores Tanner says
ooooo, LOVE sunflowers!!! Am here in Redmond, Oregon.. we are doing well. i am self isolating. my son is crazy about me going out, so i try to help him by staying at home for the most part. grocery, some costco only once since this started. i never plant my sunflowers but feed the birdies and they are the ones that fertilize and i get sunflowers!!! your pictures are so lucious…. (sp?) mine not so much, but love to take the pictures for my blog… not so much a travel blog, but find things now and again to share… don’t know if people are so interested, but i am… Hahaha Take Care and God Bless
We love seeing and hearing from you, i get to see the world thru you both…